What will 2013 hold when it comes to the way businesses employ social media to how they operate? Or perhaps more accurately, to the way they find themselves increasingly surrounded by all things social? As organizations prepare their strategic plans for 2013, it sometimes feels that we've been on this treadmill for a good while now, yet social media still feels as challenging to wield effectively as it's ever been.
One significant obstacle stands out at this point: The lack of social media familiarity and expertise in organizations at a management level. It's now clear that this has kept social media at arm's length for too long. A Harvard Business Review column this week observed as much:
Too many companies have kept social platforms separate from their essential businesses.
A closely related issue is that the discipline still represents a very different way of working than many organizations are used to. But whatever the issues, and there are good many, the organizations I've spoken with in the last year now seem to realize the social world isn't going away any time soon. Many of them are now making plans accordingly.
Such plans must take much into account today: The galaxy of products and social media services that exist today, the many competing strategies and techniques that organiations can use -- and even the endless parade of social networks themselves -- have led many an organization directly towards analysis paralysis. Many have been content to wait for the pioneers to take the arrows for them and just copy what works. Fortunately, some of the leading organizational trends we are seeing today are focusing much more operationally and practically than ever before. in particular, as a primary objective, attempting to create actionable order out of the social media chaos. The move from the part-time social media committee to the fully staffed social media command center is a prime example of this evolution.
In fact, many enterprises are now busy reorganizing their social media efforts to scale them up, make them have greater impact, and to address what seems to otherwise be an unsustainable pace of technological change. The goal largely remains the same as ever: To capitalize on the rich potential that many organizations feel they're not yet reaching with social. This usually means ways to better connect with their primary stakeholders (workers, customers, partners) in the new channels of communication to which many of us have moved, while also tapping into more effective ways of working and creating mutual value there.
There's good news in our social business journey as well: The tools, platforms, strategies, and techniques of social business are at their highest level of maturity ever, even though that's not always saying much in emerging areas such as social analytics, the shift of social to mobile devices, and the rise of line-of-business integration. Despite this -- and actually, because of these advances specifically -- we're going to see a high-water mark in 2013 as organizations put social in the center of the way they operate like never before. This is not a supposition, but trends based on what some top companies currently have planned this year. I'll try to cite them as we go along below.
Eleven Predictions for Social Business in 2013
Last week I summarized the major trends in social business in 2012. Now it's time to take a look at what's on tap for this year. Here are eleven of the most significant areas of interest for enterprises as they seek to better adapt to social media and become more effective at creating significant value with it.
- Companies will begin full integration of social media across the customer experience. While this started in earnest last year, we'll see companies begin updates to their entire customer experience, with social as a key aspect and equal citizen with other touchpoints, such as phone, Web presence, mobile apps, etc. What will really set this apart this year is that companies will use social media to conduct primary activites, including marketing to prospects, closing sales, supporting customers, gathering new product ideas, and even improving their supply chain. That this will happen widely will be greatly assisted by the fact that many major enterprise line-of-business applications have recently added social media capabilities to the way they work.
- Social media will become subsumed into regular business applications. One of the bigger trends in social software recently has been "connectors" to bridge social media with existing business applications. Need to connect a community around a MS Office document? That's easy to do now in most enterprise social networks. It's the same with content/document management, marketing automation, customer care solutions, business intelligence tools, and more. In 2013, many enterprises will understand how these work, get better at turning these connectors on, and make them available to workers. In addition, updates to traditional business applications will continue to add more social networking features (often through social media startups they've acquired) that allow improved collaboration and sharing. In other words, regular software will become noticeably more social this year as well.
- Social marketing and social CRM will grow substantially but remained siloed, for now. These two areas in external social business have been particularly successful in recent years. But even as social media encourages a consistent and self-guided customer journey across marketing, sales, customer care, and product development, this is something that the internal fiefdoms of enterprises are still struggling to support (marketing is usually completely disconnected from customer care in most businesses, for instance.) Despite successes in some areas -- and even though the very best marketing is often terrific (and widely-observable) customer service -- these two areas will only begin moving towards each other this year. The rise of mobility may be the Great Unifier here. I've predicted before than mobile is the wildcard that will bring these two functions together, as most companies will typically have one primary app they use to engage customers with, including marketing and customer care.
- Large companies will begin creating and moving to strategic engagement platforms. According to recent data from Gartner, companies realize that having sustained relationships with their customers in digital channels is a top priority. They are now building communities, mobile apps, and other enivornments in which to maintain long-term customer relationships. A great example is Chevrolet's new 'Find New Roads' effort, which is an attempt to create a strategic way to engage with customers over the next decade. The development of powerful new consumer engagement platforms as a strategic corporate asset will be a growing priority in 2013.
- Data scientists will become the top hire on social media teams, with community managers and social architects vying for the 2nd spot. Pretty much the hottest job in tech last year was the burgeoning information jockey whose job is to make sense of the vast pools of Big Data companies have been accumulating in recent years. Social media is one of the greatest sources of information in this regard, but it's also useless without someone to craft usable lenses into it. Enter the rise of data scientists, the lack of which was one of my Big Data predictions for last year which came poignantly true. Cultivating thiss skill wil be big in 2013. Community managers and social architects will also be urgent hires in many firms in 2013, but good ones will also be in particularly short supply.
- Social media will become a leading source of business intelligence. While this has been the subject of countless predictions in the last several years, it'll finally become mainstream in 2013 as the tools and skills get ready for prime time. Everything from real estate to finance and just about every other industry will be affected by the real-time views into what's vital and will change the art of the possible. See my gallery of the 10 major examples of the ways that social media and big data are already making this happen today in many industries.
- The fusion of mobile/social will continue to be a major challenge. Making social media an effective and enjoyable experience on mobile devices such as phones and tablets, particularly for business uses, is still in its infancy. While some companies are rolling their own branded social/mobile apps, I currently expect that enterprise social softare vendors will do most of the work ultimately. They will even make significant progress this year. However, I also estimate they will still not achieve parity with their consumer app cousins in 2013, which in turn are usually still not as good as their Web native counterparts in general. But investment here will be critical given the broad demographic shifts to mobile. Enterprises must continue to put pressure on their vendors to bring their mobile experiences for social apps up to with parity with other service delivery channels.
- Social fragmentation and silos will vex social media strategists more than ever before. Sometimes it feels like we have too many social networks, too many apps, too many digital identities. All of these will make it hard to manage, govern, and secure social media for many businesses, much less take take advantage of them at scale. The fragmentation helps perpetuate so-called "dark social", where it's hard to see what's actually going on. And the issue will only get worse as everything becomes more social. While the top social networks will have continuity and presence across touchpoints as they are used as the "connective tissue" between individual Web sites, business applications, and other media, enterprises will still be looking at solutions to unify identity, social activity, social apps, and social data in order to keep it under control. For now, be prepard to manage a few top level identities and a bunch of smaller ones at an employee level. Fortunately, unified enterprise identity management for the closely-related arena of SaaS and cloud services is getting much better. It may in fact end up offering a partial solution for enterprise social identity as well. In the meantime, concerted efforts to sort out social silos and address them proactively and comprehensively will help for the short-term.
- The limits of internal-only social media will be increasingly felt. More integrated, outward-inclusive, and holistic strategies will emerge. The evidence is mounting that internal-only social media sharply limits what's possible and often leads to adoption ceilings of 30% or so, as workers are limited in who they can actually collaborate with, leaving them for tools with more reach. Many companies I spoke with this year were interested in broading their definition of engagement and creating environments to more broadly connect their stakeholders, wherever they are. Leading social business products from companies like Salesforce, IBM, and Jive have all added features fairly recently to enable cross boundary social engagement (worker to customer, for example), and these will actually be used more broadly than ever before in 2013.
- Open standards for social media will continue to reflect the needs of startups, not enterprises. I've been bullish for enterprise social media standards such as OpenSocial in the past. With the W3C gearing up to get serious about the vital topic of social business standards this year, we'll see if we can reconcile the two worlds of consumer and enterprise social media, the former which tends to drive most of the conversation on the topic of standadrds. Many companies have forgotten how hard it was to achieve what the IT industry did with open standards in years past or the great advantages it brought us as businesses. The conversation will get interesting again this year, but will not definitely sort itself out. However, I urge all enterprises should get their say in, or be left behind as startups create even more de facto standards that very likely will not serve the unique needs of our businesses.
- Security and compliance for social media becomes a significant industry in its own right. Many industries have a hard time participating in social media at all. Financial services, insurance, legal, and health care are good examples of these, but really, all public companies often face severe restrictions on what they can do, which in turns sharply limits the benefits of social media that they can access. Global firms have even more challenges as they face an incredibly complex patchwork of local, regional, and national laws on social media usage and customer privacy around the world. This has led to a cottage industry of startups to help sort it all out and provide a safety net under which companies can be assured they are following laws and regulations. I'm tracking more and more entrants into the space and we'll see the industry grow enormously to make it easier and safer for enterprises to engage in social media in its many forms. The availability of such capabilities will help move social business forward greatly this year.
Of course, a great deal more than what's on this list will actually happen in 2013, including a number of things we can't yet imagine. For example, I suspect we've not seen the end of the social media uprising meme (see Mashable for a great list of the particularly historic ones in 2011). Many think this is increasingly leading up to a Corporate Spring. However, if the behavioral data on consumerization is even close, this is already under way as workers use the tools they choose and pay for to communicate and collaborate.
However, the move to social media this year will not in fact be revolutionary for most organizations, it will simply be practical necessity. As I like to say, a billion people have changed their communication and interpersonal habits over the last four years. Companies can ignore this for perhaps a bit longer in some cases, but not if they want to stay relevant or healthy. It's going to be an exciting year for social business all around, not just because much of the hype has receded, but because we're now just getting work done, as so many recent examples have shown.
Please contribute your own predictions or share links to your favorite social media predition list for 2013 in comments below.